Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode five of Easttown Mare on Sky Atlantic / HBO. Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen
I watch so much TV that my turn detection skills are now in tip-top shape. I’m a spoiler athlete, trained and ready to watch the Olympics. I roll my eyes at any “sudden” revelation, groaning because it had been so obviously flagged since episode one.
But this week’s episode of Mare of Easttown, Illusions, surprised me. The Kate Winslet-directed thriller took an even darker turn by killing (I guess he looked pretty dead to me) puppy Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), just as he and Mare found the man who had kidnapped Katie. Bailey and Missy Sager. After Line of Duty, it took a short break from painfully tense television, sitting on the edge of the couch and screaming at the screen. But from the moment the detectives knocked on the door and the camera slowly moved to the Bennie’s Tavern sign, I was terrified. This was horrible and fascinating, perfectly choreographed to add to the stress. The silence of the lambs, the chill that Potts radiated, in his old collapsed bar, the banging of the pipes, the realization that Mare, suspended from duty, did not have a weapon, the loud music, suddenly cut off, the chase by the home, the tray on his head … it was a fitting way to end what appears to have been a red herring in the Erin McMenamin murder case, and it all fell into place as a result of Mare’s tenacious detective work.
This week it became obvious that this is a story of grief and how people live with it, of families torn apart, not just by kidnappings and murders, but by prescription drugs, illegal drugs, love affairs and suicides. As a portrait of modern America, it is not flattering, and the series is rarely a lightweight watch. But he behaves with a sense of humor, and from time to time he gets to the charade: Mare’s mother, Helen, is run over by a screaming teenage lesbian, a policeman is afraid of blood, Helen (again) finds herself herself the unwitting subject of a pitiful compliment given by her neighbor.
Winslet’s rebirth has been a wonder to witness, as he digs into the dirt to play characters battered by life. Mare is a terrible mother, according to her daughter, she is mean and cold with her dates (poor Zabel!) And with her ex-husband, she is obsessed with work, to the point that she accidentally attacks a man with dementia at rugby afterwards. mistaking him for a marauder, and she does bad things, like plant heroin on her grandson’s mother, in hopes that she won’t get custody of him. She sucks on her vaporizer like it’s keeping her alive.
Yet despite Winslet’s superb acting and the intricacies of detective novels, Mare of Easttown almost lost me in episode four. He had been cautious since the first episode ended with a long, slow shot of Erin’s naked body, a cliché of the screen that should have been abandoned long ago and that seemed to be at odds with the general spirit of the show. When episode four closed with the revelation that Katie and Missy had been abducted (and raped, we now know) by a mysterious man at the time, I thought, oh, it’s this kind of show. But somehow, solving it as quickly as he did and saving the young women, he got back on track.
Two episodes remain that will presumably reveal who killed Erin, a mystery that now sees even more suspects in the painting. I knew James McArdle’s deacon was a villain, because McArdle is not cast out to hang out in the background dispensing communion wafers. But he denies the murder, though he admits everything else that makes him look highly suspicious. The twist in which Erin’s friend Jess and her ex-boyfriend Dylan are deeply involved in a cover-up was another surprise. And now Billy, Erin’s cousin (I had to look that up; he was a bit lost in the Billy / John / Kenny family tree) is acting suspicious about the time Erin came to stay with him. What are the odds that your abandoned Rolling Rock bottle will end up in a bag, to be sent by Mare for a DNA test?
Saturday Night Live faked Mare of Easttown a couple of weeks ago into a brutally accurate sketch called Stop Murdur. Kate McKinnon played a “grizzled detective … with a very specific accent”; Mare of Easttown director Craig Zobel said he was “very flattered” by the tribute. But this week’s episode revealed a less predictable beast than Murdur Durdur predicted. Whether it will deliver on this latest burst of promise in its final two episodes remains to be seen, but now I assume I’ll be caught and shocked to the end.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism